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tv   Dateline NBC  NBC  March 19, 2016 8:00pm-10:00pm EDT

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>> this case has it all. it's got money. it's got a big house. it's got sex. it's every element you'd ever want. >> a woman dead at the bottom of a staircase. >> i said, "you need to read this, you need to understand that mom did not die from falling down the stairs." >> there were secrets on the hard drive. on the computer. >> hmm, big secrets. >> a simple case of murder. or was it? >> a review of the slides showed what? traces of bird feather? >> yes. >> in trying to solve one mystery, police may have solved two. >> here i have two women who appeared to die the same way. lightning don't strike the same
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>> that's a whole lot of women dead at the bottom of the stairs in this guy's life, don't you think? >> but what looked like the end of this story -- >> it's really stuff made for tv drama. >> -- was just another beginning. >> i always had hope. it has to be made right. >> when the cell doors slide shut with a resounding clank -- >> i was a wreck during this period. i really was. >> when the sun will come up through razor wire every day for the rest of your life -- >> that's where it begins and ends. >> a convict's glimmer of a successful appeal and retrial may keep desperate hope alive. >> i always had hope. it has to be made right. >> but in the real world of criminal justice, most of the time once you're inside, you're
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>> this is reality that we couldn't change. >> but not every case ends the way you'd expect. meet michael peterson. his case, which defies all odds, became known as the staircase murder. the sensational investigation and trial that ensued would rip a family apart. the secrets, the sleaze on display for everyone to gorge on. >> my mother would be absolutely appalled. this is the last thing she would have ever, ever wanted to happen to her husband. >> let's go back to the night, early december, 2001 and stroll up the driveway of gracious, ramble ging house in a better neighborhood of durham, north carolina. the homeowners, kathleen and michael peterson, are out back on the patio, as the story goes, finishing a bottle of wine. in the living room, the
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the grown peterson children, expected home for the holiday. kathleen was always happiest in that season, as her daughter caitlin remembers it. >> she loved christmas. she loved being in the mood playing music from the start of december all the way through new year's. >> it was the kids actually who brought kathleen and michael together. his marriage started to fall apart. she was separated. michael was raising his two boys and two young girls, margaret and martha. the girls became neighborhood playmates with kathleen's daughter, caitlin. >> i guess that was really when i met michael, before he was ever romantically involved with my mother. >> as the kids started spending more time together, so did kathleen and michael. before long, they ran an idea by caitlin, a big one about becoming a family together. >> they sat me down and said, you know, caitlin, how wow like it if margaret and martha come to live with you and i immediately thought a permanent sleepover. >> and that's exactly how michael presented it to his two girls.
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i think he put it, we're going to have a long sleepover. and we said, yeah. >> her younger sister, martha. >> of course, we want to live with caitlin and kathleen and play barbies and be a -- yeah, be a family together. >> michael's two boys from his first marriage, todd and clayton, were almost out of the nest by the time their dad moved in with kathleen. still, clayton has good memories of dropping by the melded family. >> i would go over all the time. i'd baby-sit the girls and spend a bit of time over there. we were very close. >> michael was a worldly u.s. marine vet and was now a full-time writer. one of his vietnam books got a big advance, money that went towards buying the big house. >> he said, we're thinking about moving into this house, and they drove us over. we didn't even go inside. we just looked, and we thought, oh, my goodness. you know, this is amazing. >> there in his office he'd
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out sharp-elbowed columns on city politics for the local paper. stick-in-the-eye stuff. he'd even been a losing candidate for mayor of durham. kathleen, meanwhile, was a top business exec who'd risen through the ranks of nortel, the telecommunications company. she received a masters degree in engineering from duke, even appearing on the coverage of a university magazine. she was nothing if not a super mom juggler. >> it was as much a priority to get their hair braided properly as her showing up to work on time. >> power points by day, martha stewart at night. her younger sister candace was in an awe of her energy. >> not only did she raise these children and have a quite accomplished corporate career, they entertained like several dinner parties a month. oh, dinner for 50? she'd do it. >> and kathleen would even whip up nightly three-course meals with michael presiding at the table.
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incredibly well-read. >> he was always the entertainer at dinner. he would carry the conversation and just have the most funny stories. >> so, the children were delighted when after years of living together michael and kathleen made it official and got married. >> i always thought, you know, this is what will register as the happiest day of my life. >> and for kathleen, it just may have been. >> she was thrilled to be marrying michael. all three girls were bridesmaids in her wedding. i remember at the wedding the three girls singing "we're going to the chapel." the day they married, my sister glowed. >> kathleen and michael were a durham power couple. for more than a decade, their life together had been a whirl of parties, art openings, charity events. to candace, her sister had never been happier. >> she liked the prestige of being able to say, i'm with this man who's an author and well traveled.
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approached with the girls away at college, kathleen was jittery, she was taking valium. her job had been overwhelming of late, all those long hours at the office. more than anyone, she welcomed the time-out the upcoming holidays offered. and so, on that mild december night out back by the pool, as the story goes, michael and kathleen embraced his surprise good news that day. a big-time hollywood producer was nibbling at optioning one of his novels for the movies. another midnight glass of wine was in order. >> they definitely liked to drink wine. they could probably have two bottles of wine and, you know, start showing it a little bit. >> what happened next would be the subject of a decade of debate. it seems that kathleen left michael to finish his cigar by the pool. she had to get on the computer to read an e-mail for a conference call in the morning. still, another work crisis. michael says he went back inside
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to discover something ghastly. kathleen soaked in blood at the bottom of the back staircase. >> 911, what is your emergency? >> [ bleep ]. please. >> what's wrong? >> my wife had an accident. she is still breathing. >> what kind of accident? >> she fell down the stairs. she is still breathing. please come. >> by dawn, the news of kathleen's fall, only the vaguest of details was reaching the sisters at college. family members delivered the awful news. >> she said something's happened. >> your mom has fallen down the stairs. you know, it was an accident. you know, you should come home. >> by the time kathleen's daughter, caitlin, got the word, it was as shocking as it was definitive. >> she looked me straight in my eye. and she just said, caitlin, it's your mom. she's dead. those words still ring clearly in my head. >> what had happened on that
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blood? did kathleen peterson fall down the stairs? that was one possibility but detectives were considering another. >> i remember feeling that something was going badly with the police.the police. start by taking care of families for 70 years. earn the trust of 32 nfl teams. be there for america's toughest and help, when help is needed america's #1 isn't a status earned overnight. it's earned in every wash, and re-earned every day. tide, america's #1 detergent i can't believe it has 40% fewer calories than butter. i can't believe it's made with real, simple ingredients. i can't believe... we're on a whale. i can't believe my role isn't bigger. real ingredients. unbelievable taste.
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early on a sunday morning, a few weeks before christmas, kathleen peterson's sister, candace, answered the phone. it was her brother-in-law, michael, with unimaginable news about kathleen. >> she had fallen down the stairs. it was still vague. we couldn't tell if she fell down the stairs or she fell off a ladder, but there is no question i could think, are you sure she's dead? >> yes, michael was sure. candace headed to her sister's house, shocked to find police everywhere. >> the whole thing was sealed off with crime scene tape. and this is a mansion, huge property. >> the police were cautioning her not to go inside. >> they kept saying, you may not want to go in. there is so much blood. this is really awesomely scary. >> but candace needed to find something to bury her sister in. so, as soon as the officers would allow, she enters. that's when michael showed her
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kathleen had taken that fatal tumble. >> my sister's blood is washed in pools up against the wall. there is blood just everywhere. >> and now a disturbing thought took root in candace and then began to grow. what if kathleen's death wasn't an accident? she couldn't go there. >> i still want to believe it was an accident. i don't want something horrible happened. >> but all that blood, up the walls, could it all be from a fall down the stairs? and that's precisely what was gnawing at detective art holland, ever since he arrived at the house the day before in the early morning hours after kathleen died. >> i've seen falls. i've had family members fall, and to me it did not look anywhere like a fall. >> but the medical examiner who came to the house thought that kathleen could possibly have died from a fall down the stairs.
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or feel some of the lacerations on the back of mrs. peterson's head and he stated this could be the result of a fall. >> and certainly the emts had encountered a distraught michael peterson. he was found cradling kathleen, crying so hard he had to be pulled away. but still investigators wanted to be sure that this was an accident. >> explained to him, you know, sorry for his loss, but that the scene had to be processed. >> it would take the investigators the better part of two days to go through the 9,000-square-foot house. >> it was, you know, very time consuming. you don't want to go through it real speedy. you want to make sure that you cross all your ts and dot all your is. >> the crime scene tech started by photographing the stairwell, documenting the pool of blood and spray up the wall. outside, drops on the walkway and a smear on the front door. on kathleen's body, a bloody shoe print. in the kitchen, bloodstains on
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of blood on the counter. and right beside it, an open wine bottle and two glasses suggested that perhaps a night of drinking had, in fact, led to a tumble down the stairs. even kathleen's daughter, caitlyn, couldn't rule it out. >> she knew how to hold her alcohol. but that's not to say that she didn't drink a lot. she could easily drink a large amount of alcohol if she was up until 2:00 in the morning. >> meanwhile, michael peterson and his kids took refuge at a neighbor's house. michael and his brother, bill, kept watch on the police investigation across the street. >> we walked by the house several times to see what the police were doing. >> bill, a lawyer, advised michael not to talk with the cops. >> i'm thinking as an attorney now. because i don't know what's going on. all i know is the police obviously think something is going on. >> bill worried it was payback time. he was concerned that his big brother had put a bull's-eye on his own back with those columns he wrote for the local paper. it turned out he often targeted the cops. >> he was extremely critical of them on a regular basis.
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eye? >> constantly. they were a regular foil of his. >> so, he was taking on the good old boy system there? >> very much so. very much so. >> michael's daughters were also worried. they knew very well their father relished being a provocateur, and now the police were swarming their house, walking the yard, looking under bushes and trees. >> i remember feeling that something was going badly with the police. >> it was a few days after kathleen's death when michael called a family meeting to reassure them. he told them that no matter what they heard, no matter what the police tried to concoct, he would never have hurt kathleen. >> he specifically wanted us to know that he did not do it. and he told us that, you know, they had been there, and they had been drinking, that he had gone out to the pool, and he came back and found her at the bottom of the stairs. i said we believe you. >> but would the police? they seemed intent on peeling
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what was going on behind the closed doors in the mansion on cedar street? >> they were asking me questions about kathleen and michael's relationship and if i knew of anything. i thought they were happily married. she was very much in love with him. >> but the detectives were beginning to believe the perfect marriage was anything but. the peters' marriage behind closed doors and the bombshell in the coroner's report that would tear a family apart. >> i said you need to read this. you need to understand that mom did not die from falling down the stairs.the stairs. we've been quietly selling kraft macaroni & cheese with no artificial flavors, preservatives or dyes. and guess what? moms didn't notice. kids didn't notice. dogs didn't notice. this person named "bill" didn't notice. spring breakers, coffee makers, movers and shakers, working from home fakers... none of them noticed a thing. because this kraft mac & cheese... still tastes like...
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detective holland of the durham police department didn't like what he was seeing in the stairway when he arrived at the petersons' sprawling mansion on cedar street. even though the on-scene medical examiner thought the wife kathleen had possibly died from a fall down the stairs, the detective's gut told him there
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>> this doesn't look like an accident. >> he called in a specialist to analyze the blood in the stairway. >> we had to change gears. what was called in originally as a fall, accidental fall, changed over to a suspicious death. >> so while the forensics team did its collecting, the detectives started to peek behind the curtain of this durham power couple. >> in addition to the forensic evidence you're gathering, you have to ask what's going on in this marriage, right? >> right. >> that's a big part of your investigation. >> right. >> detectives pull kathleen's sister, candace, aside to ask if she'd noticed any trouble in her sister's marriage. >> the police took me in a police van to interview me privately. >> in her grief, candace was hesitant to say anything bad about her now-widowed brother-in-law. she'd always liked him. >> he was a fun person to sit and chat with across the dinner table. he was interesting. he was a little arrogant about his intelligence but he was a very smart man.
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everything was fine in her sister's marriage. it was only later that a conversation she'd had with kathleen a few months before she died started haunting her. >> she was very, very concerned about her job stability at her company, and they were making layoffs. >> and kathleen confided in her, the financial pressures were growing. her income was shaky and her expenses exploding. >> i didn't realize how much credit card debt she had. >> $143,000 on plastic. the big house, it turned out, was a money pit, and there were the big college tuition bills. >> we have got three kids going to college and good colleges, expensive, private colleges. >> kathleen's daughter, caitlin, knew just how heavily the financial stress was weighing on her mom. she was writing big checks not only for her tuition to cornell, but also helping out margaret and martha. michael had taken responsibility for them after their mother died when they were young. >> there was a lot of financial problems.
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i sensed the stress of that. >> and to make matters far worse, kathleen had been plowing a big part of her six-figure income back into her company's stock. the petersons had gone all in with the dotcom mania. >> michael kept coming up to kathleen all day long saying, nortel's worth this. oh, now it's worth that. oh, now it's worth that. he was fascinated with look how rich we're getting off nortel stock. >> but by late 2001, the bubble had burst. the stock tanked, and most of kathleen's nest egg went with it. a few weeks before she died she felt she was looking at her own fiscal cliff. >> the financial stresses were about to explode right before christmas. this was like the perfect storm coming together. >> and when investigators looked at the couple's credit reports they saw just what kathleen's sister candace feared.
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or had any royalties coming in he had no income. >> and michael's dip into local politics caused only more stress in the marriage. when he ran for mayor he was called out for a lie. a whopper of one. the war action novelist didn't have a purple heart as he'd claimed. he was hurt not by taking bullets in vietnam but a car accident in japan. >> when it became public about his lies, it caused kathleen the friendships. she had to stand by michael or keep the friendships and the friendships were lost. >> the admired two on the town, the petersons, had taken a big hit. and the whole ugly incident did make candace wonder about her brother-in-law's judgment. why would you lie and then run for mayor when you will be totally vetted in the terms of the truth of your military history and background? >> and now with her dead they were stacking up.
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a motive for murder. the blood pattern analyst completed his initial findings. >> he told me he felt strongly that this was a homicide. >> the lead detective saw a marriage on the rocks and a scene that he believed had too much blood for a simple fall down the stairs. just a few days before christmas, michael peterson was charged with the murder of his wife. he turned himself in. his children were stunned. >> to lose kathleen and then to lose dad, basically, we were all grief stricken and just in shock. >> as the officers booked michael into the county jail, the family stood unified behind him. kathleen's daughter, caitlin, echoed her stepfather's claim that the cops were harassing him. >> my mother would just be absolutely appalled. this would be the last thing she wanted to happen to her husband. >> it was hardly the christmas that the peterson family had so looked forward to.
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their father in jail. >> it was just us kids in that house by ourselves, you know, trying to piece together a christmas. >> but soon, another bombshell. and this one would blow the family apart. two months after christmas, the coroner released the results of the official autopsy. >> multiple lacerations to the back of her head like she was bludgeoned to death. severe, long, linear lacerations. >> not consistent with a fall? >> not consistent with a fall. >> if kathleen's sister candace had been harboring suspicions about what had really happened to her sister, the medical examiner's report was the thing that pushed her over the edge. >> how there's seven huge lacerations that basically scalped her? she was murdered. that one picture, that was it. >> after reading the autopsy report herself, kathleen's daughter, caitlin, agreed with her aunt. she called her stepsister, margaret.
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this. you need to understand that mom didn't die from falling down the stairs, that she was beaten to death. >> but caitlin's childhood playmates, her stepsisters, margaret and martha, stood strong with their father. >> dad told me that he didn't do it, and i believe him. i trust him. >> the stepsisters never spoke again. caitlin removed her belongings from the house. >> i've lost obviously far more than just my mother. i did lose my family, my home. >> there was a lot of love there in our family and then just to have that dissolve was very, very painful. >> could the family agony get any worse? it could and by a wide margin because now michael peterson was not only accused of killing his wife kathleen, but was also facing questions about the death of another woman on another staircase years before. >> it's horrific. it's a nightmare.
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discover was, well, beyond eerie. an incredible coincidence or was it proof positive of murder? >> here i have two women that appeared to have died the same way, two women that are associated with michael peterson. lightning doesn't strike the same place place twice.wich with my phone? why can't my battery last long enough to navigate me through these scary woods? ugh. eh, probably fine though. [lightning strike] why can't my phone have enough memory to hold all 145 of my movies, like that one with the action and the martial arts? you see that one? why can't my phone take high quality low-light photos instead of this big, expensive camera? [police car siren] why don't you come down from there, sir? you got it! why doesn't my phone work after i pour this expensive champagne all over it? how amy i 'sposed to show people how rich and carefree i am? why did i have to wait so long in this commercial to do a celebrity sports person cameo? [scoreboard buzzer] why don't i ever get asked to be the spokesperson in the commercial? ha, ha. good question. introducing the only water-resistant, fast,
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in police work, a good tip can make your day. and also make your life a lot more complicated. just such a tip came to the desk of the detective working the kathleen peterson case. >> i think it was two or three days after kathleen's death is when i first had contact with the family members of elizabeth ratliff. >> elizabeth ratliff was the mother of the two girls that michael was raising. and elizabeth's relatives had an eerie story to tell of what happened to her. another woman in michael peterson's life on another staircase. let's leave the house on cedar street for a few moments and go back in time almost 20 years across the atlantic to germany. frankfurt in the early 1980s. michael peterson was living with his first wife, patty, and their two sons near a u.s. air force base. michael was working on a novel while she taught grade school to
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margaret and martha's mother elizabeth ratliff worked alongside patty. >> michael and patty were our parents' best friends. i remember actually patty was saying that our birth mother was like a sister to her. >> when the girls' father, an air force officer died on a mission, the petersons and the rest of the close-knit community stepped up to help. it took a couple of years for the overwhelmed widow to pull herself together. but just as she'd rediscovered some zest in life, death found the ratliff family again. it was november 24th, 1985. elizabeth and her young daughters had gone to the petersons for dinner. later, michael peterson brought them home. the next morning, another good friend of the ex-pat circle amy beth burner were summoned to elizabeth's townhouse by the girls' hysterical nanny. come. there's been a horrible accident.
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peterson a few doors down. >> as we walked in, michael was at the bottom of the staircase. and liz was covered with a coat and was puddle of blood going from where she was laying all the way down under the staircase. >> elizabeth ratliff was dead. amy beth asked michael peterson what happened. >> he said, well, she probably had an aneurism like her father. when i started to think about someone falling down the stairs, i thought, well, that's possible. those stairs are pretty steep and slippery and wooden. >> but as amy beth thought about it, there was too much blood for a slip and fall. blood not just where elizabeth lay but high up along the staircase walls, too. >> if you fell down the stairs, why's there blood sputtered up the wall? it didn't make any sense to me. >> and she said, there were household details out of order. like the table that liz set out
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it was bare. the snow boots she routinely left by the front door still on her feet. >> liz never wore her boots in the house. she always took her boots off. and that was another clue to me that something was wrong. it's obvious that she was either running from someone or trying to escape. >> had elizabeth been attacked the night before? had her death not been by natural causes? amy beth thought a full-fledged investigation would ensue. but as she tells it, michael peterson spoke to the authorities that day, relating that elizabeth had been complaining in recent days of severe headaches, and she had a hereditary bleeding disorder. perhaps she had a stroke and fallen down the streets. the questions amy beth expected to be asked never were. >> i wondered why aren't they talking to people? why aren't they asking questions? no one did. >> later that day, peterson phoned elizabeth's sister margaret blair in rhode island with the dreadful news. >> he said, margaret, there's
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liz fell down the stairs and died. what are you saying? i just totally went numb. >> margaret could not believe it. >> i mean, my sister. he's saying she died. she's young. she's got two beautiful little children, babies really. i mean, of course, i had a thousand questions afterwards. >> but any questions regarding foul play in elizabeth ratliff's death were laid to rest by the results of an autopsy performed at a u.s. army hospital in germany. elizabeth died, the examiner said, from a brain hemorrhage, natural causes. her body was flown to texas for burial beside her husband. at the funeral sister margaret anxious for further details wasn't going to hear anything more from michael peterson. >> michael was very aloof and very strange. >> did he speak? >> no. he didn't really say a lot at all. he never talked about the --
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>> liz's will had designated the petersons and not her family as the girls' legal guardians. you didn't think that's strange? the petersons? who are these people? >> well, actually, you know, i can understand how that could happen. this was her world now. liz must love these people and trusted them to the nth degree. >> not long after, the new peterson family now with two boys and two girls moved back home to north carolina. the marriage of patty and michael, though, wouldn't last. michael struck up a relationship with kathleen. then there was their decade together raising kids, his best-seller, her business success, her social whirl in durham. fast forward to december 2001 and comes the uncanny, eerie parallel involving another death on another staircase. margaret, elizabeth ratliff's sister, got a call from one of the girls. >> she said, margaret, there's
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kathleen fell down the stairs and died. i went, do you know what you're saying? i said, the same thing happened to -- she said, i know. >> margaret decided she had no choice but to pick up the phone and call the detective working the kathleen peterson case. >> do you know that my sister in 1985 had an accident? she fell down the stairs and died and michael was the last person to be with her. >> detective art holl dance did not know that. >> i was overwhelmed with here i have two women that appeared to die the same way, two women that are associated with michael peterson. >> the detective started digging into the elizabeth ratliff story. he learned that the pathologist who attributed elizabeth's death to natural causes back in 1985 couldn't say for certain what had caused her brain hemorrhage. had she been the victim of a stroke, a fall or foul play?
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decided the only way to know for sure would be to have the body exhumed from the grave in texas and look for themselves. disturbing what they found. dead women tell no lies, say some. >> the lacerations were very similar to the ones that had been perpetrated upon kathleen peterson. >> now pandora's box is open.dora's box is open. ever since darryl's wife started using gain flings, their laundry smells more amazing than ever. (sniff) honey, isn't that the dog's towel? (dog noise)
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as time went by, margaret blair had come to accept michael peterson's explanation of her sister's death years before. a tumble down the stairs in a german townhouse. >> i just believed what i was told. about the cerebral hemorrhage and presuming that a doctor had, you know, made this diagnosis. >> and for close to two decades, the aunt in rhode island watched from afar as her nieces margaret and martha were raised by the petersons. first in germany and then in north carolina with michael's
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visits with the girls had been all too brief. >> they would come visit me back and forth. but, you know, i just felt every time i had to send them back to north carolina. >> but when she learned that kathleen had also been found dead at the bottom of a staircase, margaret began to fear her sister elizabeth's accidental fall might be anything but. >> when i talked to her friends, i found out that blood had been dripping down the walls. well, that doesn't happen when you have a cerebral hemorrhage. >> margaret recalled that right after elizabeth's funeral there had been at least one relative asking questions about michael peterson. >> there was a member of my family who said, i think michael peterson has something to do with liz's death. >> said that very thought? >> yes. and at that time, i can remember saying, people don't go around killing people. you know, that's absurd. >> but now authorities in north
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those grave suspicions might be warranted. after reviewing elizabeth ratliff's case, investigators led in part by then durham assistant district attorney freda black concluded that the only way to figure out how elizabeth died was to dig up her grave. >> we decided that it would probably be worthwhile to try to exhume her body to determine whether the findings in germany were accurate or not. >> to do that, they'd have to get the okay from elizabeth's daughters, margaret and martha. the girls who believed in their father's innocence as fiercely as they mistrusted the authorities struggled with the ordeal. >> the hardest thing i've ever had to do was to write off on the exhumation of our birth mother. >> but ultimately they agreed. >> i signed off on it because we wanted to be like, there's no way this could have happened.
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i will do this to free our dad of these accusations. >> on a beautiful blue sky day, the remains of elizabeth ratliff were exhumed from the resting place in texas. her body was driven to north carolina where it would be studied by the same medical examiner who'd ruled kathleen peterson's death a homicide. it was a risk here. wasn't it? >> it was. >> if you opened the coffin and decided the authorities in germany were correct and ruled it natural causes -- >> decided it needed to be done. >> roll the dice basically. >> exactly. >> the detective peered through a moored window as the top was pried off elizabeth ratliff's coffin. >> it was so airtight it was hard to use the crank to get the casket to open. once it was raised, you could see part of elizabeth ratliff's face and hair. it was remarkable. >> they were stunned. the body was practically intact. >> her fingernail polish was
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her dress was still perfectly in place. >> she had her wedding dress on. that was very difficult. >> the m.e. took a closer look at the injuries to elizabeth's head. she was finding lacerations, deep gouges in the scalp. seven. seven lacerations? >> it was amazing. it was uncanny. the lacerations were very similar to the ones that had been perpetrated upon kathleen peterson and in her findings, she made a decision that ms. ratliff had been murdered. >> now, pandora's box is open. who killed her? >> the answer was obvious to the authorities. there were now two women in michael peterson's life both dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs. both believed bludgeoned. kathleen's sister candace thought that peterson had killed both women.
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being struck by lightning than two people who i intimately know at the bottom of a staircase. >> but to martha and margaret, the whole thing seemed absurd. the fact that michael was being accused of killing kathleen, the woman they called mom, was bizarre enough. but now, their birth mom, too? what would their father have gained by killing elizabeth ratliff? >> he would have gotten two screaming little ragamuffin kids out of it. and that's it. like there's nothing -- there's no reason for it. >> for the investigators in north carolina, though, the death in germany became a strong building block in their circumstantial case for murder. >> i'm just thinking that my case is getting a whole lot better. >> and what's more, detectives learned that michael peterson had a secret life. secrets, tawdry ones, were about to spill out in the durham courthouse. enter brad, the male escort. >> what types of services did you perform? >> oh, well, that's pretty broad.
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>> what compelled me about this story is the notion that you never know who you're married to. to.since when did experience become something to hide? i say we own it. lose all that negativity. just let it go. it's just bad energy. oh, and lose those terrible black balloons they give you on your 50th. what's up with that? hey we hear you. that's why our members love aarp the magazine. it celebrates you. with fun and provocative content, from lifestyle and entertainment to in-depth reporting. and it's just one of the great benefits of membership. if you don't think "this is right for me" when you think aarp, then you don't know "aarp".
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in the summer of 2003, michael peterson would stand trial for the bludgeoning death of his wife kathleen. he pleaded not guilty to first degree murder. >> i am innocent of these charges, and we will prove it in court. >> but as the trial began, the prosecution team was determined to introduce the jury to the man behind the microphone on the courthouse steps. the person they saw as the real michael peterson. >> he actually had two sides to him. some people say dr. jekyll and mr. hyde. but there was a side that outsiders saw and there was a side that the insiders saw that was very different. >> this case is about pretense and appearances. it's about things not being as they seem. >> aphrodite jones
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and hosts "true crime" on discovery said that as the case got under way, it was clear that michael and kathleen's marriage was far from the perfect one that their friends envied. >> what compelled me about this story is the notion that you never know who you're married to. and in this case, kathleen peterson had no idea that she was married to a wolf in sheep's clothing. >> scratch beneath the glossy veneer, the beautiful house, sparkling dinner parties and prosecutors would tell the jury they'd find a marriage in shambles. more than the couple's money problems, more than the loss of social standing after michael got caught out lying about his military record, there was what investigators found when they searched his home office. >> there were secrets on the hard drive, on the computer, huh? >> hmm, big secrets. >> and the prosecution would begin to reveal those secrets in graphic detail to a packed north carolina courtroom. while kathleen toiled away at
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couple's mounting bills, michael's writing career was hitting a wall. >> he had some free time on his hands. and we believe that he somewhere along the way began to form relationships, let's say, with men that he particularly met on the computer. >> not women. but men. the prosecution's theory was this. the night kathleen died, she asked michael if she could use his computer to receive an e-mail about a sunday morning conference call. >> kathleen was not allowed in michael's office. nobody was. but that night, because she had an important meeting in the morning, michael allowed her to get this one particular e-mail. she had forgotten her laptop at work. >> it was in his office that prosecutors believe she stumbled upon a series of explicit e-mail exchanges between her husband and an escort. his name, soldier top brad. his website pic was a come
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with dog tags. >> he performed every service under the sun happily for pay. he was a male prostitute. >> you have great reviews, and i would like to get together, peterson wrote in one e-mail. i've never done escort but used to pay to blank a super macho guy who played lacrosse. i'm very bi and that's all there is to it. >> what types of services did you perform? >> oh, well, that's pretty broad. >> on the witness stand, the escort told the jury that just three months before kathleen's death, he and michael peterson had arranged to meet. >> we were to hook up. >> and what were you all planning on doing? >> having sex. >> the hook-up never happened. but combine that revelation with the other combustibles in the couple's life like the financial stress, and you have all the ingredients the prosecution told the jury for a fatal confrontation. >> if kathleen had known this, she would never have stayed in that marriage according to her
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she was not one to be cheated on. forget about having somebody who's being a bisexual with other men. >> further evidence that michael attacked kathleen ferociously, the prosecution stated, was as clear as the spray of the blood up the staircase walls. >> the amount of blood, the positioning of the blood, the location of the blood, it was >> in general terms, smaller the drop. >> to take the jury vividly up the back stairs, the prosecutor called the state's blood pattern expert, duane deeper. he told the jury with certainty that kathleen peterson had been beaten to death. he testified the droplet pattern high up the walls was exactly what you'd expect to see with the weapon rising, striking and casting out blood with each new blow. >> i believe there's a minimum of four blows that have occurred in this scene. >> what's more, he testified,
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inside of peterson's shorts. he'd done tests that he said proved that the only way to get there is if peterson is standing over his wife beating her. >> the individual wearing these pants at the time of that impact was in close proximity to the source of blood when it was impacted. the blood pattern expert also pointed out something especially chilling to the jury. technicians that responded had noticed drops of fresh blood on top of dried blood on one stair step. did that mean the assault happened in two stages? >> there were two attacks. kathleen peterson was beaten and she fell, and then to make sure she was dead, she was beaten again. >> further evidence to support the theory of two attacks showed up in lab tests the prosecution argued. kathleen's head injuries had produced something called red neurons which they say form after oxygen is withheld from the brain for at least two hours.
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least two hours to do things. before the 911 call's placed. >> what was he doing during all that time? the state argued he was staging the scene. detectives saw what they thought were white marks on the stairs. to them, it was an attempt at a cleanup. and there were those two wine glasses on the kitchen counter suggesting an evening of maybe too much drink followed by a tumble down the stairs. the thing was, kathleen's fingerprints weren't on either glass. in fact, the prosecution said kathleen's blood alcohol content was low enough that she could have passed a roadside breathalyzer test. was the writer of fiction making up yet another story, covering up murder as an accident? >> it seemed like somebody had poured the whole bottle of wine down the drain to make it look like they had been drinking more than they had. >> so, this is staged? >> it was staged. >> yet, if kathleen was bludgeoned to death as prosecutors thought, problem.
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murder weapon. prosecutors believed it was a hollow fireplace tool seen here in family photographs. it had been a gift from candace to her sister a decade before. >> i just found it to be a great gift. i definitely saw it by the fireplace. >> prosecutors thought peterson had ferreted the blow poke out of the house that night after the attack. if he had, that could explain those blood drops on the walkway. >> blood dropping from the murder weapon as it was potentially disposed of somewhere outside the dwelling. >> but the state thought some of its most powerful evidence was what the medical examiner found on the top of kathleen's head, seven tears to the scalp. >> do you recall any case where someone died falling down the steps and there were multiple lacerations? >> no. >> were you able to determine in your opinion what the manner of her death was? >> the manner of death in this
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>> injuries that were eerily similar to those suffered by the peterson family friend from germany all those years before, elizabeth ratliff. and the jury almost in a trial within a trial heard that story. the long ago germany friends testified about their suspicions about michael peterson's involvement in another stairway death. another one with so much blood. >> the blood was up so high that i -- i couldn't figure out how did the blood get up there. >> it was the bow that wrapped up the state's case. >> do you really believe that lightning strikes twice in the same place? do you? >> michael peterson had been the last person known to have seen not only kathleen peterson alive but also elizabeth ratliff. >> that's a whole lot of women dead at the bottom of the stairs in this guy's life. don't you think? >> so, there was the prosecution's case for conviction. blood evidence. a staged scene and the trigger. the violent confrontation
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resulted when a secret appetite for men was exposed. and not a bit of that made any sense the defense was about to tell the jury. the prosecution said it was missing. guess what turned up. >> my heart started pounding. >> and the defense's answer to that damning blood blood evidence. looking great and stepping out with confidence includes having beautiful feet. my newest beauty routine secret starts in the shower. discover the latest innovation from amop\. the new pedi perfect wet & dry. now get effortless hard skin removal on dry or wet skin. plus, it has 2 speeds and it's rechargeable. the easy way for touchably soft feet. suits me and my new shoes. new amop\ pedi perfect wet & dry. amop\. love every step. buy one take one is back at olive garden because there's nothing like a great meal with the family
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what happened on that back staircase? was it the violent culmination of a perfect storm of domestic stress as the prosecution held, or was it really something not criminal at all? an unfortunate accident. for months, michael peterson's girls margaret and martha sat in court suffering as prosecutors labeled their dad a killer. >> they would accuse my father
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murder or the staircase murders and we couldn't stand up and say, wait a second, this isn't true. >> but now it was lead defense attorney david rudolph's turn to convince a jury of that. kathleen's death, he said, was a simple, fatal accident. nothing else made sense. >> the truth is that kathleen peterson after drinking some wine and some champagne and taking some valium tried to walk up a narrow, poorly lit stairway in flip-flops. and she fell and she bled to death. >> there had been no violent confrontation that night, rudolph argued. no discovery of explicit e-mails by kathleen. all that he believed was a fantasy of the prosecution team. michael peterson was bisexual, sure, but that didn't mean the petersons weren't an extraordinarily happy couple. >> did michael have sexual needs
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okay, he did, but that didn't mean that their relationship was anything other than great. >> even brad the escort testified that peterson wrote to him about how much he loved his wife. >> in his e-mails, unlike most of my clients, indicated he had a great relationship. most clients don't want to say anything about the relationship. he indicated he had a warm relationship with his wife and nothing would ever destroy that. >> and the defense thought kathleen could have known about the sexual inclinations. bill said the sexual interest were no shock to him. >> were you shocked to learn that? >> no. i have known that since i was 14. >> even if kathleen discovered her husband's bisexuality that night, bill says an explosive fight wasn't the likely outcome. >> i think she would be the kind of person that would talk through something like that, even seeking external help if she wanted -- fell she needed it. >> as for the peters' money
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contrary to being on the brink of financial collapse, the couple's net worth, assets minus debt was a tidy pile. the state's financial analyst admitted as much in cross-examination. >> the situation in december of 2001 was a couple worth approximately $1.5 million after paying off their debts? >> that's correct. >> the defense now had to scale the mt. everest of the case. the forensics, explaining to the jury all that blood. how could a simple fall have resulted in spatter so high up the staircase walls? >> the defense will call dr. henry lee to the stand. >> celebrity medical examiner, henry lee of o.j. case fame would show the jury in theatrical fashion just how kathleen falling and staggering about coughing up blood could have accounted for the spray. >> an injured person walking, can move, can shake their head. can move their head. can move the arm.
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>> obviously, the blood all around was due to her being alive and moving around for some period of time. it didn't have to do with what inflicted the wounds. >> and the blood on his shorts? that could have happened the defense said while michael peterson was cradling his wife. as for the other blood evidence, the police said proved that michael peterson had tampered with the scene, drops of blood in the house and more on the walkway outside, none of that could be trusted attorney rudolph told the jury. >> the blood in that area had been completely altered. the scene at the house had been completely contaminated. >> the defense argued the police had failed to secure the staircase for their first hour on the scene. allowing michael and even his son, todd, to track kathleen's blood throughout the house. >> michael goes up to kathleen with the police watching, hugs her.
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couch where there's blood transfer. and then todd says, can i go get some soda and a glass? and the police say, sure. and here goes todd walking around the kitchen with blood on his hands. >> the defense believed the blood evidence was misinterpreted by overzealous investigators who may have had it in for peterson from the start. remember those newspaper columns taking pot shots at the local p.d.? perhaps his family thought this was payback time. >> he did not make a lot of friends with the police force. and so, perhaps they could have, you know, been doing little extra to him. >> as for the supposedly suspiciously death of elizabeth ratliff in germany, the defense granted it as a weird coincidence but legally here in durham, north carolina, completely irrelevant. peterson was never charged with ratliff's murder and maintains he had nothing to do with her death.
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circular argument. because she died at the foot of a stairway, then kathleen peterson must have been murdered and because katayama -- kathleen peterson was murdered then elizabeth ratliff must have been murdered. well, the reality is that elizabeth ratliff died of a stroke. and that was determined by an autopsy at the time and it was never suspicious until kathleen died. >> peterson's brother agrees. investigators had been called to the scene in germany and found no indications of foul play. >> two dead women at the bottom of a stairwell. >> 17 years apart? coincidences do happen. >> then there were those ghastly lacerations on kathleen's head which the state's medical examiner attributed to a beating. defense attorney rudolph countered with an expert of his own, a neuropathologist who
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skull or bone fractures. >> kathleen peterson's injuries were the result of a fall and not the result of a beating. >> there was absolutely no fractures anywhere, no fractures to her fingers, to her arms, to her skull, and there was absolutely no injury to the brain, and that's just almost an impossibility if what you're doing is beating something with a metal object. >> just as unlikely, rudolph said, was the prosecution's contention that the brutal attack took place in a cramped stairwell. if michael peterson had been beating his wife with a metal object, wouldn't there have been nicks and dings in the wall? the defense took the jury on a tour of the cedar street home to show them there were none. >> it just defies imagination to think that he could have done that in that space and not caused some collateral damage. >> and for a final exclamation point, the defense had a perry mason moment up its sleeve.
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throughout the murder weapon used to bludgeon kathleen peterson was the fireplace blow poke, only police never found it. but near the end of the trial, a stunning revelation. >> my heart started pounding. >> peterson's son, clayton, said while fixing his car, he'd come across the missing blow poke. it was there all along he said and the cops had simply missed it. >> here it was in the basement just sitting in the corner covered in dust and cobwebs. >> clayton ran upstairs to tell his father who he said met the news with skepticism. >> he thought it was a set-up and that it was planted there and that the police were going to come storming in to the house. >> that's a blow poke, isn't it? >> in court the defense played the moment for all it was worth. >> it appears to be. >> getting the lead detective to agree that if this was, indeed, the murder weapon, it was completely intact. >> do you see any dents in there? even like a tiny little indentation? >> it doesn't appear to have any indents in it. >> that was the blow poke.
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the murder weapon? >> lawyer david rudolph thought he peppered reasonable doubt all the way through the state's circumstantial case. from the questionable analysis of the blood in the stairwell to the marital perfect storm that wasn't to the murder weapon that wasn't missing at all and was no more than a dusty fireplace tool. the peterson camp was confident. >> we were so positive that he was going to get off because in our minds it was the clearest thing in the world. >> but would the jury agree? the verdict. >> i thought that we had won that case, hands down. >> i didn't do anything. >> we, the 12 members of the jury, find the defendant to be -- be -- ? yeah. no. living for tomorrow, lost within a dream let the sun shine through to lift your spirits once again
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after five months of trial, one of the longest anyone could remember in north carolina history, the peterson case was finally in the hands of the jury. >> i had this moment of doubt where i was like, what if it doesn't happen? what if he gets convicted? and i was like, no. there's no way. >> the peterson kids were confident their dad would be going home with them.
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lawyer himself, was certain the prosecutors had not proven their case. >> i thought that we had won that case hands down. i could not see anyone coming away from that trial with the conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt that my brother inflicted a beating that caused her death. i just did not see it. >> but it seemed the jury as though the jury would never come back. day one, no verdict. ditto day two and day three. and the jury's deliberating and you're waiting and waiting and waiting? >> yeah. we were getting more and more optimistic, too, because the longer the jury's out, we're thinking they're having trouble, doubts. >> finally, on day four, they got word. the jury had a verdict. >> we were absolutely terrified. we knew the magnitude of this decision. >> a hush, and then the clerk began to read. >> we the 12 members of the jury unanimously find the defendant to be guilty of first degree murder. >> i felt violently ill. we all sort of reached over and grabbed each other as if we were
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it was definitely a terrible moment in my life. >> as soon as we heard the first juror say guilty, i just was weeping like i was being taken over by grief and shock. >> is there anything you want to say before the court imposes punishment? >> i would like to say -- >> michael peterson turned to his kids. >> he said, it's okay. it's okay. i think on his part he was just trying to calm himself down. but also i think he felt like his role was to protect us. >> he was acknowledging that we had a huge loss and that we had just lost everything and that it was going to be okay and he was going to find some way to make it okay again. >> michael peterson turned to face the judge for the reading of the sentence. >> the defendant is imprisoned in the north carolina department of corrections for the remainder of his natural life without the benefit of parole. >> for kathleen's sister
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to celebrate. >> makes me cry when i heard it. there's no joy in this. it's just great sadness. >> and peterson's defense attorney david rudolph was racked with would have, could have, should have doubts. >> i was devastated. it made me question myself. >> as one of north carolina's most battle hardened criminal defense attorneys, he knew how slim the chances were for a retrial once a case went on to the appellate court. >> and i can't imagine a worse fate than being in jail for something you didn't do, particularly when it's a loved one who's died. you don't even have a chance to grieve that person. >> bill peterson who had moved to durham to be with his brother through the trial was in disbelief. >> i went back to the house and i broke down. that's the worst day of our lives. our collective lives. absolutely the worst. >> the brother stepped in to help in whatever way he could. there was the big house to sell. margaret and martha about to be
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would have to move to nevada with him. he visited michael in prison to get things started. >> my brother had to sign some papers, power of attorney for me so that we could wrap up his life and he came up aennd tried to reach his hands through the glass and crying. that was bad. >> the peterson children resigned themselves to the harsh reality that prison was now their father's home. they visited him whenever they could. >> i would just sob every time i left. you hold it together for dad because there's -- why would you cry in front of dad? that's not going to help him. but then when you leave you're sobbing in your car. >> years passed. the girls now young women watched their father age. still, michael peterson told his daughters he wasn't giving up. >> we would have hope for every single appeal. and every single time it would get beaten down.
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carolina supreme court rejected michael peterson's request for a new trial. for peterson, it seemed to be the end of the line. >> wasn't going to come out. that was the hard part. >> with little to lose, he spoke in prison with aphrodite jones who had written a book on his case. >> i know i'm not guilty. i knew i didn't hurt kathleen. it's very difficult for me to accept the fact that i'm a prisoner, a convicted murderer. just -- it's nonsense. >> peterson said he loved his wife and his interest in men was not an issue in the marriage. >> did kathleen know -- >> yes, of course, she knew. i mean, it just was not a major factor in our lives. there's love, and then there's sex. and that's what that was. >> peterson told aphrodite he and kathleen were enjoying a pleasant evening at home the night she died. >> we had sex.
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we came downstairs. she started to cook. it was a -- a pasta thing. >> it was a night like many others peterson said until he found kathleen at the bottom of the staircase. >> people would say, how do you know she fell down the stairs? well, well, you know, you come in, you've been drinking a lot. she was drinking a good -- great deal. you find somebody at the bottom of the stairs. hmm, i guess they fell down the stairs. >> he said he never would have hurt kathleen. >> i didn't do anything. and i guess basically still in my heart in my -- i'd like to believe kathleen fell down the stairs. but nobody buys that one. >> his words were, but nobody buys that one. >> wrongfully accused, wrongfully convicted. >> absolutely. wrongfully accused. wrongfully convicted. and he's going to find a way out of this. >> out in a coffin or out the front gates. the coffin seemed more likely. but then, life can take some
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there are pleasant places to idle away your golden years, but north carolina's nash correctional institution isn't one of them. but that's where michael peterson, father, novelist and wife killer according to a jury of his peers was incarcerated. just another number in a cell block with other felons, life
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parole. >> the only way michael was ever going to get out of prison was in a coffin. >> out in reno, though, peterson's look-alike younger brother hadn't given up hope, not yet. bill peterson the lawyer had been digging ceaselessly for years to come up with something new in his brother's case that the court might consider, but it was the longest of long shots after the appeals fizzled. did the lawyer in you say that's it? my brother's -- >> no, that's when the real hard work started. out of money, out of lawyers. so, that's when the burden fell on me and whoever would help me. >> bill peterson spent hours in the durham county courthouse combing through the district attorney's piled high boxes of evidence. was there something that had been overlooked? and he wasn't the only supporter nursing alternate theories of kathleen peterson's death. there's a neighbor on cedar street, an attorney, who had an intriguing idea for what he believes happened that night. his scenario of an accidental
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the owl theory. >> we've seen owls in the area. he thought that this was very plausible. he put together this whole theory himself. >> so, here's how brother bill envisions the owl theory happening. kathleen who spent the day putting up christmas decorations goes out front that night while michael is back by the pool. she's checking on her lawn display beneath the trees. >> the owl flew down and landed on kathleen's head and then tore her scalp in a manner that would be consistent with the lacerations that were found on her scalp. >> bleeding, kathleen struggles in to the house getting only as far as the staircase where she joins the defense's depiction of falling, passing out, coming to and rising again only to fall for the final time. the d.a.'s office had been approached with the owl theory during the trial and dismissed it outright. what's wrong with the owl theory?
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lack of other things that might be left behind if an owl had, in fact, viciously attacked her was basically why it didn't seem to make sense. >> the cops are making a big joke of this. they put a picture of the owl on their most wanted list. >> so, the peterson jury never did hear about an owl theory. but zip ahead five years. the neighbor who was advocating for it was still looking for something to back his theory up. sure enough, there it was in the original case notes file. a feather. >> you have to magnify them 400 times just to see them. >> tim thompson, owner of associated microscopes, was hired to examine the slide of that feather at the district attorney's office. >> they grow under the talons of an owl. when they attack something, they leave behind these small particle feathers. >> thompson peered through his microscope, studying a clump of
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peterson's hand. tangled in the hair were not one, but two minute feathers, a surprise he says both to the detectives and the assistant d.a. with him. >> they were just surprised that their lab people had not found it. >> bill peterson was surprised, too. here was further proof that an owl may have attacked kathleen. >> a review of the slides showed what? traces of bird feather? >> yes, yes. exactly right. in her hair. another very, very compelling fact. >> what was most compelling about the idea that an owl attacked kathleen, the supporters thought, was how it accounted for the distinctive lacerations on the scalp. had the three main talons of an owl like these caused a bleeding head swoop? symmetrical tears. >> we had an ornithologist who said it was consistent with the owl claw. >> think of the trident talon claws. >> yeah, yeah.
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causes plenty of bleeding. she panicked. obviously running in the house to get away from the howl, that she did and ran down the stairwell. >> and if an owl attacking human sounds like so much urban legend, don't tell that to byron unger. he owned a company about ten miles away from the peterson home. he was leaving work with his manager one night when an owl swooped down from the trees and swiped his colleague on the head. this surveillance camera caught the entire freakish event. and if that weren't strange enough, it happened to byron himself just two weeks later. >> i've never been hit so hard by something that felt like a baseball bat. knocked me probably five feet to the ground. >> knocked you? >> on the ground. scattered me. i was bleeding so bad, i thought i lost my eye. >> his wife waiting for him in the car dialed 911. >> they didn't believe my wife. they thought we were crazy when we said my husband's been attacked by a bird or an owl.
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think it got you. >> got me right here into my eye a little bit and up into my hair really bad. all this was black and blue. the side of the face and all up in here hit by talons. >> is that what happened to kathleen peterson? but critics see problems with the idea that an owl attacked kathleen. problems like, why isn't there more of a trail of blood from the front door to the staircase? and why would she go up the staircase at all? writer aphrodite jones is one who thinks the owl theory falls apart. >> michael was supposedly then outside, as well. wouldn't he have heard his wife being attacked? wouldn't he have rushed to the other side of the lawn to see what was the matter? >> and kathleen's sister, candace, does not believe for an instant that an owl was responsible for what she sees as her sister's bludgeoning death. >> i'm supposed to believe an owl ripped her apart. there's no ripping on her arms of an owl's talons. the thing is so ludicrous. >> in the summer of 2009, peterson's neighbor filed a
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requesting that michael peterson be granted a new trial. the trial judge dismissed it. the owl theory was dead in court but lives on still in the court of public opinion. >> there are people a lot smarter than me who absolutely are convinced that this is what happened. >> so, with the motion for a new trial denied, with the owl shooed out of court, it really did seem finally to be the last chapter for the novelist. but a surprise ending or at least a surprise development was in store, and no one could have seen it coming. >> so this is junk science voodoo. it's complete voodoo they don't have the evidence they think they need to convict the person so they make it up. >> problems with the state crime
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by 2010, seven years after michael peterson's conviction, his daughter martha had given up hope that her father would ever be released from nash correctional institution. >> dad was probably going to be in prison until he died. this was the reality that was never going to change. >> but in the cell blocks at the
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inmate who would account for an astonishing reversal of fortune for peterson. his name is greg taylor. >> i had a wife and daughter and a suburban home and a career and also had some, you know, habit ss from my youth regarding drugs and alcohol that led me into a ditch one night. >> after a night out, taylor was accused of a brutal crime, the murder of a woman in an industrial section of raleigh, north carolina. from day one, he says he professed his innocence. >> any time they offered me a chance to prove i'm innocent, i jumped at it. >> but the police didn't believe him. perhaps because investigators found a spot of what looked like blood on the fender of his truck. tyler had abandoned it just yards from where the body was found. the lab backed up the suspicions. >> the blood was the issue right from the very beginning. there's no way i could be telling the truth with the victim's blood on my truck. >> at trial, taylor was convicted and
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he appealed his conviction all the way to the u.s. supreme court unsuccessfully. >> you figured you were going to die in prison? >> yes, sir. >> but taylor's fate began to change when his case fell into the hands of a north carolina wrongful convictions. she got a hold of the original blood analysis. >> it's one of those moments i will remember forever. >> the documents showed the substance on taylor's truck did test positive for indications of blood in a preliminary test. but the lab workers had performed additional, more refined tests that had never been reported to the authorities. those tests showed there had never been blood on tyler's vehicle. why wouldn't that lab person call up the detective, the prosecutor and say i got some bad news for you? the theory of the victim's blood on the car, it is not. >> yeah. you're thinking with common sense. you're thinking with moral obligations, ethical obligations. >> did that not happen? >> that did not happen. >> when a three-judge panel
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tyler had been convicted of murder in part for blood on his truck that wasn't blood at all, the decision was unanimous. >> greg taylor is innocent of the charge of first degree murder. >> taylor, they ruled must be released from prison immediately. >> they literally destroyed my life. my family. >> how many days? how many years? >> 6,149 days, almost 17 years. >> wrongfully accused, wrongfully convicted? >> yes, sir. >> but what does the story of wrong time, wrong place greg taylor have to did with michael peterson? everything it turns out.oid with michael peterson? everything it turns out.d with michael peterson? everything it turns out. with michael peterson? everything it turns out. because the agent who prepared the report is a name you have heard before. special agent dewayne deaver. remember him? >> my opinion is that this is a scene of a beating. >> he was a star witness for the prosecution. in the peterson trial. the blood pattern expert that put michael peterson in the
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peter's attorney david rudolph believed deaver's testimony was crucial to the state winning a conviction. >> what he did was to give the jury a scenario of how this allegedly happened and that michael peterson was there and inflicting the blows and that was all from his reading of the blood evidence. >> after greg taylor's exoneration, one section of the crime lab at the sbi, the state bureau of investigation, came under intense scrutiny. the state attorney general's office retained independent investigators to see if there were other cases where lab agents failed to report test results. >> they went through all the sbi files and tried to match up cases that were similar to greg taylor. >> reporter joseph neff covered the story of misconduct at the state bureau of investigation for raleigh's "the news and observer." he says the attorney general review found more than 200 problem cases.
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agent in common. >> there are a handful of cases that were egregious in their minds. all five of those were the work of deaver. >> the developments got defense attorney rudolph thinking. if the blood pattern analysis linked to misconduct in other cases, what damage might he have done to michael peterson's? quite a bit according to the lawyer. for starters, rudolph says, deaver wasn't truthful about his professional experience on the stand. >> he said he wrote 200 reports of blood splatter analysis. not true. he said he had been to the scenes of falls 15 times. in fact, he had never been to a scene of a fall. >> what's more, an investigation by reporter neff had revealed that the methodology behind some of the experiments that deaver and other agent ss conducted was flawed, designed to produce pro-prosecution results. >> all of the tests that we found were absolutely unscientific.
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the country and described them to them, and the experts say, you know, this is -- this is junk science. >> like this test conducted for a 2009 murder case. deaver videotaping the experiment was attempting to match a bloodstain on the accused's shirt. >> that's a wrap. that's a wrap. just like the movie. >> right. >> s sthis is junk science, voodoo? >> it is complete voodoo. they don't have the evidence they think they need to convict the person, and so they make it up. >> in the peterson case, deaver had conducted experiments which he said showed that the bloodstain on the inside of michael peterson's shorts was evidence that peterson was over his wife beating her. remember that? >> the individual wearing these pants at the time of that impact was in close proximity to the source of blood when it was impacted. >> this was considered huge at trial. blood evidence that put peterson in the stairway.
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experiment. on the second attempt, reporter neff said deaver and another agent got the results they wanted. >> she does a touchdown dance like she is in the end zone and it just scored, running across the lot pumping her fist. >> when peterson's brother, bill, sawawhe experiment videos, he was appalled. >> it's all reverse-engineered stuff. it's all designed to get a result. to me, it is not scientific at all. >> duane deaver was fired. neither his work on the peterson case nor as an analyst and field agent was the cause for the termination termination. he is fighting the dismissal. he says he maintained an outstanding job perform mavens rating, reputation and that he did nothing wrong. for the peterson defenders, though, the implication was clear. the jury had been misled by a witness whose credibility as an expert had been damaged. after all, the state and its closing argument had even played
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to try to secure a conviction. >> then you're just going to have to believe that duane deaver is just a liar. and he has no reason in the world to come up here and lie to you. >> defense attorney rudolph filed a motion asking for a new trial. and the judge, this time, was ready to listen. will michael peterson soon be a free man again? >> it's really stuff made for tv drama. your body was made for better things than rheumatoid arthritis. before you and your rheumatologist move to a biologic, ask if xeljanz is right for you. xeljanz is a small pill for adults with moderate to severe ra for whom methotrexate did not work well. xeljanz can reduce joint pain and swelling in as little as two weeks, and help stop further joint damage. xeljanz can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. serious, sometimes fatal infections, and other cancers have happened. don't start xeljanz if you have an infection. tears in the stomach or intestines, low blood cell counts, and higher liver tests and cholesterol levels have happened.
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kathleen, an older-looking michael peterson was back in a north carolina courtroom arguing for a retrial on the grounds that the state's crucial blood pattern expert had given false testimony against him. but as far as kathleen's sister, candace, was concerned, prison was where peterson deserved to rot. >> ten years without my sister. ten years without her and ten years the rest of us have been alive and had our freedom but not kathleen. >> as the years passed, the hurt of missing her sister remained raw. she is determined to hold her former brother-in-law responsible. >> my sister's dead for eternity. oh, no, no, no. he murdered my sister. he took the prime of her. he should be held accountable for what he did. >> but peter somebody's attorney david rudolph was just as determined to free his client from prison. over the course of a seven-day trial, rudolph
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of blood pattern expert duane deaver. >> agent deaver lied to this court and our jury, not once or twice, but repeatedly. >> and with the peterson supporters holding their breath, the same judge who presided over the murder trial now laid out his thinking point by point, rhetorical questions. >> is a new trial required for newly discovered evidence, due process violations and perjured testimony? the answer to those questions is, yes. >> did duane deaver misrepresent himself to the jury? yes. did dane duane deaver's testimony make a difference in this case? yes. >> it will be the court's order that mr. peterson will receive a new trial. >> and there it was. michael peterson would be getting a new trial. his family was overwhelmed. >> i just about fell out of the chair. the bench just almost flipped over.
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shock and could not believe that there was hope. >> i was, like, my dad's getting out. we're going to have our dad back. >> for the peterson children, now there was only joy. >> lots of hugs. lots of happy, happy photographs. so we're all like jumping up in to the air in a silly picture of just so, so happy. >> for defense attorney david rudolph, the judge's decision was a chance for redemption. >> it was a magic moment for me because for eight years i had labored under that and second-guessed myself and wondered if there was things i should have done differently. and it all boiled down to a witness who was not telling the truth. >> 24 hours after the judge issued his decision sharply criticizing the agent's work on the case, 69-year-old michael
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$300,000 bond. he got to hold his grandchild then thanked his supporters and shared his hopes for vindication. >> i have waited over 8 years, 2,988 days, as a matter of fact, and i counted, for an opportunity to have a retrial. i want to thank judge hudson for giving me that opportunity. so that i can vindicate myself and prove my innocence in a fair trial this time. >> he was placed under house arrest. his every move monitored by an electronic ankle bracelet. but that was just a detail to his son, clayton. >> he wasn't in prison. he wasn't in jail. he wasn't behind bars. he was a free man again wearing clothes. >> for the girls, margaret and martha, the dark cloud that lay over the family name for nearly a decade had lifted. >> we were part of the peterson family, and we are not afraid to say it. we were so stigmatized before,
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>> but there was still a chance that michael peterson could return to prison. the state appealed the decision to grant peterson a new trial. both sides were back in court as the state argued its position before a panel of appellate judges. >> the defendant in this case received a fair trial and there does not need to be a new trial in this case. >> in the end the state court of appeals unanimously upheld the ruling granting michael peterson a new trial and with plans for a new trial moving ahead, the prosecutor may have to try a different case. as defense attorney rudolph and peterson left the courthouse, they walked away believing some of the critical blood evidence will be inadmissible the second time around. >> i think their case is very, very badly compromised because of deaver. he was all over the crime scene. >> however, prosecutors could still opt not to retry michael peterson. in that case, reporter neff who investigated misconduct at the state crime lab says one witness may take the blame.
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michael peterson as a killer who got out on a technicality. >> that's widely perceived. there is a possibility that michael peterson may be guilty, and he may never go back to prison. if that indeed is true, that's because of duane deaver's misconduct. >> michael peterson's days in the mansion on cedar street are long gone, with it his standing among durham's upper crust. he passes his days quietly now. spending time with those closest to him. he works out at the gym, reads at the library and writes about his experiences in prison. he still wears his wedding ring, his kids visit when they can. >> he's always been there for us, of course, i'm going to be there for him. it's just second nature. >> peterson for now is free from his prison cell but not from the suspicions that still surround him. >> my father's still somewhat reclusive because while there are a lot of people that believe he's innocent and support him, there are other people who despise him and believe he's a murderer.
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candace, if her former brother-in-law is retried, it will dredge up all the pain again. but there's no way, she says, that she will back down. >> i have to relive how my sister died. she died one of the worst, worst ways. she was beaten, and she knew the person who she loved was beating her. there's no way i'm not going to get justice for her. >> so the hopelessly divided families may be destined to face off again on opposite sides of a north carolina courtroom. either way it falls, one family's justice will be another's cosmic miscarriage. everyone older now but no less passionate in their convictions about what really happened on the staircase. that dreadful accident one side will say.
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[ cheers and applause ] thank you. thank you. okay. oh my lord, do we have a show for you today, girl! [ laughter ] now, if you haven't heard about my next guest by now, you must have been born yesterday, honey. [ laughter ] now, this girl's been on the cover of "time" magazine. she stars in her own sitcom. and she's just revealed to the world that she's gay. ellen degeneres, come out, come out, wherever you are! [ cheers and applause ] >> hi.


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